Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Questions (47)

Thomas Gould


47. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of the development of a site (details supplied). [37909/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

Can the Minister give me an update on the development of the St. Kevin's site in Cork? As he will be aware, this strategic housing development has proposed the construction of 274 units, comprising of 46 houses and 228 apartments, but, unfortunately, arising from the consultation between an Bord Pleanála and the LDA, An Bord Pleanála has stopped the planned development and is waiting on further information on the development.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Deputy for the question.

The LDA was established on an interim basis in September 2018 by way of an establishment order made under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971 , pending the enactment of primary legislation when it will be established as a commercial State agency.

The LDA is currently working on a HSE-owned 14.5-acre site on the grounds of St. Kevin's Hospital, Cork. The agency has advised my Department that this site will deliver approximately 274 units. The project is currently in the pre-planning stage, with a strategic housing development pre-application consultation already completed with An Bord Pleanála. The LDA envisages that the strategic housing development planning application will be lodged for the site by the end of 2020.

As with all State bodies operating under the aegis of my Department, arrangements have been put in place by the agency whereby Oireachtas Members can request information directly from it regarding operational matters. In this regard, it may be contacted directly at oireachtas@lda.ie.

Once the planning application proceeds, we expect a decision to be made by An Bord Pleanála within a 16-week period. This will be a significant project for the LDA because we note the agency will be a huge arm of the State in the delivery of low-cost, affordable quality homes for citizens. The site, along with the other nine currently in the ownership of the agency, is part of the proposal to deliver 4,000 quality homes, which are very important to our citizens.

I welcome that there will be an announcement before the end of the year but unfortunately I have listened to Minister after Minister responsible for housing talk about this development and do nothing. In 2002, the facility was closed down. For 18 years, it has lain idle. We have had Fianna Fáil in government, Fine Gael in government and a mixture, yet nothing has been done. I welcome the announcement but in 2013, seven years ago, I sought to have the site developed. On a number of occasions, I went to Cork City Council seeking a partnership with the likes of Cork Institute of Technology, UCC and homelessness services to have a sustainable site but nothing happened. The first Minister I went to was Mr. Phil Hogan, and I also approached Deputies Coveney and Eoghan Murphy. I raised it with everyone. We need the site developed. The Government and HSE spent hundreds of thousands of euro protecting it with security firms but, in 2017, it was burned to the ground.

I note that the Deputy has other proposals for the site but it is important to state our aim and primary focus is to deliver the 2,074 quality affordable housing units on it. We can only be accountable for what is under our jurisdiction in the Department. I have advised the Deputy that the planning application is expected to be lodged by the end of this year. There is a lead time of 16 weeks from that date for the planning application to go through its verification process. We expect the units to be delivered. It is one of the primary sites under the control of the LDA to deliver high-quality homes for our citizens. As I pointed out, the LDA, as a significant State agency, has a unique opportunity to deliver the homes on the nine sites under its control, one of which is in my constituency - a very significant site at Columb Barracks. We look forward to developing them to ensure we have high-quality, cost-rental affordable homes for our citizens.

As I stated, I welcome the announcement. Can the Minister of State give me a timeline for the delivery of the houses and apartments? I was a councillor on Cork City Council for 11 years fighting to get this site developed. I welcome the proposal but what I am looking for now are definite timelines. If the work starts in 2021, when will it be completed? We have been waiting for far too long. There are thousands of families on the housing lists of Cork city and county councils. The site overlooks the River Lee and the Mardyke. It is one of the most picturesque sites overlooking the Lee Valley. It would be brilliant to have a development there. Unfortunately, St. Kevin's was a mental health institution where some tragedies happened. Any development should remember this and the victims.

I fully appreciate that many of these sites, no more than the one in my constituency, have a significant emotional history attached to them. I am sure the LDA will liaise with the local authority in respect of that.

With regard to the application, I have given the Deputy a clear timeline, referring to the end of the year. Once the application is submitted, there will be a 16-week verification process.

With regard to building housing, the LDA has progressed immediately with planning on its sites before even being put on a primary statutory footing. It was key for it to get on with business once established. The Minister and I have a revised Bill, which we will publish shortly, in connection with this. We are in the business of trying to deliver high-quality, affordable homes for citizens. That is our core determination in the Department.